Ask Ray About Real Estate

Searching for homes on the web - who's the best?

Dear Ray,

I have a question about real estate websites. I find it very frustrating that so many of the homes I discover online are already sold. They appear available, but when I call for information I learn they were sold weeks or even months ago. Can you recommend a website that has more up-to-date information? 


Yours is a common complaint. I hear this complaint once or twice a month. Buyers can spend hours searching the Internet for houses, compiling a list of homes, only to discover the homes are already sold.  

Perhaps you’ve been searching one of the popular real estate websites? According to my Google search, the most popular real estate websites are:

  1. Zillow
  2. Trulia  (owned by Zillow)
  4. Yahoo Homes

All of the popular websites promise that they have access to millions of homes, along with the most up-to-date information. That’s the claim anyway. I’m not going to debunk the claims of third-party websites and I have no data to support or challenge their claims. Let your own experience be your guide. I’ll say this: The claims of the popular real estate websites sound similar to the claims of  Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. All claim to be better and faster, yada yada yada.

The real goal of third-party real estate websites is to generate revenue, not sell homes. They generate revenue by attracting online traffic or “hits.” More “hits” make the website more popular, which translates to more advertising revenue.

Today, with the Internet makes finding a home as easy as a click, right? It appears that simple. Real estate websites allow consumers to gather information about a property prior to contacting the agent and seeing the property. 

The truth is not all real estate websites are created equal and you can waste a lot of time on the Internet if you don’t know where to look.   

What you are looking for is access to real, relevant data about homes that are currently available. You need a website that is selling homes, not advertising space. If you are looking for direct access to actual listings, then you should be looking for homes on agent websites. (Of course, you can also engage with an actual real estate agent. They don’t bite.)

Once upon a time, you began your home search by visiting open houses. At some point you met an agent you liked and you began working with the agent to find a house. Even with the Internet as the most popular real estate tool, engaging with an agent is still the best way to find a home in 2016.  

Back to your question, “Can you recommend a website that has more up-to-date information?”  Yes; any website owned and operated by a licensed real estate broker with a direct link to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service database. An agent-owned website will be more up-to-date than a third-party website.  Surf around the Internet and explore some agent-owned websites.  Eventually you’ll find a website that is easy to use and presented in a format you like. There are lots of websites from which to choose. (Tip:  Visit the websites of brokers who have “for sale” signs in your neighborhood.  This is an indication they are active, engaged and knowledgeable about the community.)

In 2016, real estate transactions are increasingly complicated. When I started in the business 30 years ago, I could sell a home on a three-page sales contract. Today, it’s not uncommon to have a 30-page purchase agreement. Buying a home is a daunting task and no website can replace the real estate agent.  

You can save yourself a lot of time and wasted effort by finding an agent early in the home-buying process. Most brokers do not charge up-front fees for helping you. They’re paid on commission at the time of sale. So, ask friends, family and neighbors if they know a real estate agent whom they’d recommend. Word of mouth is often the best way to find an agent.

Ray Akers is a licensed Realtor for Lake & Co. Real Estate in Seattle. Send your questions to or call 206-722-4444.